Tag Archives: Sydney

A gift from The Blue Mountains

Starting to make an appearance… the Blue Mountains

It was when I arrived home from a trip to the Blue Mountains and kicked off my hiking shoes and socks that I noticed trickles of bright red blood dripping down on to the floor. And it wouldn’t stop.

By the awesome power of a borrowed car and a TomTom sat nav, I had cruised along the Great Western Highway, away from Sydney with the radio blasting and the Blue Mountains up ahead.

Busking at Echo Point, the Blue Mountains

At Echo Point nearby Katoomba, a thick covering of fog concealed any natural wonders. I sat down and ate a sandwich to the sound of a didgeridoo being played by an Aboriginal guy who had been traditionally painted up, ready to pose for photos with impressed tourists.

The Three Sisters, the Blue Mountains

Within a little while The Three Sisters revealed themselves, their stony prison smaller than I expected. I joined the crowds on the viewing platforms, got some truly bad pictures taken by a stranger that I had to delete (lots of sky, lots of me, barely anything of the Three Sisters) and then did a short walk over to the Lady Marley lookout where I took in the vast mountainous landscape, wisps of mist still drifting about giving it a mystical edge.

Legs unsatisfied, back at the start and with the Information Centre behind me I took a right and headed over to the start of the Giant Stairway with over 850 narrow steps leading down from the Three Sisters mounting point and into the arboreous gulley below.

Views out from The Three SIsters

The signposted track led me along the Federal Pass on forest pathways, squelchy and covered in leaves. A building purr of thunder rattled the sky as rain drops slapped onto damp leaves, working up to a steady downpour. I hid in a hollow tree trunk until the worst of it passed.

After two hours and a steady pace later, I arrived at the Scenic Railway. Would I cheat and take the train up for an easy wander back to Echo Point? Hell, no!

Views from pathway of The Blue Mountains

In fact, on the way back I was on fire, getting to the bottom of the Great Stairway within 40 minutes. Super speedy (wait for the pain tomorrow). ‘Are you really going up?’ asked a Dutch guy raising his eyebrows. He had just made the descent with his friends. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘I came down so now I’ll go back up. It’ll balance things out!’ ‘If we don’t see you back by 6:00pm’, he said, ‘then we’ll send the search parties out to the steps’.

It was unnecessary. Although I took a couple of breaks and nearly puked as my heart battered my rib cage, I was back at the top within twenty minutes, legs fully worked out and shaking.

And then back along the Great Western Highway, back to the house and kicking off my shoes and my socks and spotting the mystery blood dribbling down my ankles. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my sock moving. I lifted it to reveal a squirming, wet and well-fed leech. Eurgh! How had I managed to miss that?! Thanks very much, Blue Mountains, what a parting gift.

For free parking by Echo Point, drive past the Information Point on your right, continuing along Cliff Drive. You will see a sandy stretch on the right hand side where you can park for free.


Filed under activity & sport, australia, hikes, mountains

Vietnam? I thought I was in Australia!

Vietnam takes over the Cabramatta suburb of Sydney

Have you heard of Cabramatta? It probably wouldn’t even register on most travellers’ radars. It was only because a couple of family friends had kindly offered me a bed for a few days that I found myself taking a half hour train journey to this Sydney suburb, once again leaving behind backpackerland.

With Sydney’s sprawl ever extending out west, Cabramatta is no longer considered to be on the distant outskirts. It now forms a bubble of activity and bustle within an easy commute of the city centre. I had no expectations, nothing to go on. Excellent.

A walk in from West Cabramatta (the nicer part, apparently, don’t you know?!) to John Street took me half an hour alongside the creek and by the railway. Once I arrived on John Street, I felt as though I’d left behind the Western world and stepped into the Far East.

Signs were in Vietnamese with an English translation, if you were lucky, and I didn’t hear a single word in English. Although there was an eclectic mix of fashions with much Western influence, there was barely a Caucasian in sight. Fabrics were stacked high in little shops, and cafés and restaurants, such as the Loving Hut, advertised exotic, Asian foods. Jangly, high voiced music spilled out from places selling karaoke DVDs, and pinks and yellows and a whole cacophony of colours lined the streets. It was wonderful and confusing all in one.

A few days later I was in Manly sorting out an Australian bank account. ‘Cabramatta?’ asked the girl cashier, ‘It’s a bit, umm, different to here isn’t it?’ Yes, it most certainly is.

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Filed under australia, culture, food & drink

My, oh my, Manly!


Manly Beach, Manly, Sydney

I am sitting on the steps overlooking Manly Beach eating a picnic of juicy berries and watching beautiful people soak up the sunshine. Surfers and wannabe surfers take to the water riding small, consistent waves on a sparkling, turquoise ocean whist scavenging seagulls with shrill calls and narrowed eyes swoop whenever an opportunity presents itself, attacking tourists eating $12 fish and chips.


Views from down the promonade back towards Manly, Sydney

A long strip of golden sand at the top of Steyne Street, Manly Beach is lined by trees and a paved promenade along which families stroll with pushchairs, people lazily peddle along on push bikes and sun kissed kids skateboard, weaving in and out of a steady trickle of visitors.

The main street of Manly is wide, pedestrianised and full of brands from Oakley to Hurley, in amidst delis and ice-cream parlours galore. On the beach and in the town itself, young gym-toned, smooth chested men strut topless whilst slender, tanned girls wander around in bikini tops and summer dresses. The air smells of money with that Laguna Beach look, the one that says: I’ve just thrown this together but it took time and cost a small fortune to look so casual. But they did look pretty and cool, albeit a very constructed cool.


Beach volleyball on Manly Beach, Sydney

Although plenty of families make use of the beach, Manly feels like a place for young singles: groups of guys and girls eyeing each other up with a quick, superficial scan of the ample flesh on display before making a move or moving on.

One trio of guys kick a ball about by the water’s edge. Just as two girls come out of the sea the ball lands by them, and one of the girls skilfully belts it back to the boys. The dating dance has begun. The girls giggle and walk on, whilst the boys snatch regular glances and eventually make an approach. The groups merge and maybe, who knows, a lovely summer romance begins.

So after spending some time in the town and walking the full stretch of the beach, I’m sitting here, eating my fruit picnic. A man and woman close to me start to argue and I quickly realise that I am witnessing a break-up. Come on guys, kiss and make up. It all sounds like a load of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Once the tears start, I make my exit.

And then just as I am about to leave the beach, I see him: a bit of a belly and hairy from top to toe. Finally, a man to put the man into Manly.

Ferries for Manly leave every half an hour from Wharf 3 Circular Quay in Sydney city centre and the journey takes 30minutes. A return costs $14, but a day ticket for trains and ferries within central Sydney costs $22, so work out what makes sense.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, surf

Sydney in a day

What I first noticed about Sydney was legs: lots and lots of legs and tanned skin. Short shorts and short skirts were in, apparently, as was immaculately applied make-up and carefully considered outfits that I can only guess were the latest fashion. Regardless, I felt positively shabby, although I’m not sure that’s a feeling unique to Sydney: many a city with its slick citizens does that to me. I guess I’m just not a true city girl. But despite being on the road for five months where my limited wardrobe was starting to bore me, I didn’t feel ready to trade up to business suits and high heels. Nope, I’ll leave that to the professionals. So I retreated away from the lack of eye contact and the busy streets, away to teeny Belmore Park where I sat and wrote and watched Sydney walk by. And then I spotted a young girl wearing an I LOVE NZ top. Blatant and brave. I had been well-informed about the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand.

After the high of getting to Australia, I came crashing down to reality when my home sweet hostel turned out to be a bit of a dirty dive. (And they had lied online about having free WiFi). Pity. At $29, this wasn’t even the cheapest hostel around, so I hate to think what some of the others were like. On the plus side, the location was central and my roommates were lovely, albeit ten years younger than me.

Having found the free city tour in Cusco to be a winner in winning me over, I joined Max and more than twenty other tourists on a free three hour walking tour of Sydney. Max, having grown up in the city, really knew his stuff, introducing us to Bob in Australia Square, telling us stories of the Brits arrival at the Rocks, showing us the 3D model of Sydney (located in  Customs House) and of course taking in all the famous landmarks including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.


Me and Bob, Australia Square, Sydney


Hyde Park, Sydney


3D map of Sydney in Customs House


Circular Quay and Opera House, Syney

The Rocks

This is the rocky part of Sydney where the military first arrived and created barracks. Some horrible stories of the time include a 17 year old boy who was hung for stealing some food. Make an example of him, why not?!


John Cadman’s place – oldest house in Sydney, the Rocks, Sydney

Something quite shocking is the devastating impact that the British had on the indigenous culture and people, particularly in terms of diseases which wiped out much of the Aborigine population (who are thought to account for only 1%-2% of Australia’s current population).

Nowadays, the Rocks is a much more quiet, quaint part of Sydney. It’s older and lower and with a cuter vibe and small cafés dotted about. There’s also the free Rocks Discovery Museum where you can find out more about the history of the area.

I’m glad that this part was preserved and not ripped down to create a more bog-standard cityscape. Luckily the Green Ban worked so rather than demolition, it ended up in regeneration.


Argyle Cut – dug out by convicts, The Rocks, Sydney

Making our way down through the Argyle Cut and onto Argyle Street, we heard stories of gangs (such as the Forty Thieves) who used to roam the streets, battering and bruising people with socks stuffed with sand. Times were truly horrible: not only was there the threat of being bashed about, but also that of being press-ganged. This is said to have happened in a few places, including one of the oldest pubs in Sydney, the Hero of Waterloo: they would give you lots of free drinks and once you were suitably inebriated, a trapdoor would open, you would fall through, pass out and wake up a slave on-board a ship far out at sea. Nice.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Nicknamed The (Ugly) Coathanger by people who were moved out of buildings when the bridge was being built, it isn’t actually possible to just walk across it without booking onto a tour. And at $200-$300 (depending on which of the climb experiences you choose) it’s not cheap. There’s also the option to do it at night. Spot the Luna Park in the distance, reached easily by catching a ferry from Circular Quay.


Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Theme Park, Sydney


People walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Nice outfits.

The Opera House

The sail design for the opera house was thought-up by a young Danish guy, beating 232 other competitors. The story has a few bitter touches, though, and whilst visually it is so distinct and unique, it fails to do its job in terms of sound quality.


Manly ferry passes by the Sydney Opera House

Near by the Opera House is a blocky residential building which is often cited as one of the ugliest buildings in Sydney, particularly as it blocks the views to the park. But it hasn’t put people off paying up to $16.8m for an apartment there.

Overall, Sydney felt like a proper city with its high skyline and people rushing around and smart suits and dresses all over the place. And high heels. The centre didn’t feel too big though. And I can’t even support the city of legs statement. The idea of getting the camera out to shoot lots of slim girls in short skirts felt totally wrong, I’m sure you’ll understand. Just take my word for it.

Free Sydney Sights Tour every day at 10:30am and 2:30pm meeting at the big anchor statue by the Town Hall on George Street. There is also a free Rocks tour at 6:00pm every day. It is usual for there to be about 25 people in a group, but it can be much lower. Guides make money through tips with $10 a recommended amount for the three hour tour (tours could otherwise cost you at least triple). My guide, Max, has a blog on all things Sydney. Take a look at www.maxfranklinssydneyjungle.blogspot.com.


Filed under activity & sport, australia, culture, museums